Alberta declares a state of emergency due to wildfires

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, chair of the ruling United Conservative Party, on Saturday declared a state of emergency in the province of Alberta after tens of thousands of Albertans were forced to evacuate their homes as “unprecedented” wildfires raged in Alberta. Party (UCP) said at a press conference.

By Saturday 5pm Mountain Time (7pm ET), more than 24,000 Albertans had been evacuated from their homes, with 110 active wildfires across the province, and 36 out of control.

“It’s been a very tough day for the firefighters here,” said Kristi Tucker, director of the Alberta Wildfire Information Unit. “We were fighting strong winds and hot weather, and those winds caused severe forest fires.”

She added that additional firefighters arrived today from Quebec and Ontario.

“A lot of Alberta is seeing a geyser dry, and with so much ignition, all it takes is a few sparks to ignite some really scary wildfires,” Smith said at a news conference earlier in the day. “These circumstances have led to an unprecedented situation that our county faces today.”

Among the communities evacuated was Brazo County, including all 7,000 residents who live in Drayton Valley, 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of county capital Edmonton.

The entire community of 3,600 people in Fox Lake were among the evacuees, as the 1,458-hectare (3,609-acre) Fox Lake fire has consumed 20 homes and a police station.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen multiple communities evacuated at once in a fire season,” Smith said.

She said 1.5 billion Canadian dollars ($1.12 billion) was set aside as contingency because they know a significant amount may need to be spent on emergency management,

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Whitecap Resources (WCP.TO), an oil-producing company operating in northwest and central Alberta, said it was busy ensuring staff were safe during the evacuation and assets were not affected.

“(We’re) watching closely and praying for rain,” Whitecap CEO Grant Fagerheim said on Saturday.

Pembina Pipeline Corp (PPL.TO), which operates oil gathering pipelines in the region, said Friday that it had activated its emergency response and incident management operations and was “evaluating any current or anticipated operational impacts.”

Pembina did not respond to a request for an update on Saturday.

So far this year, 43,000 hectares of bushfires have burned, Smith said.

“It’s very unusual for us to see this fire activity this early in the season,” Tucker said earlier Saturday.

Alberta voters go to the polls on May 29 to elect a new government. Smith said that people should expect Election Day to go as planned.

($1 = 1.3373 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Maya Kidan). Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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